Fatherhood is the club I never knew I wanted to be in but the one that has brought me more joy than I can explain. It shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this if you know me at all or if you have read my stuff on Rambling Ever On. I’ve made no secret of my love of being a father, yet with all that said, I don’t want to present myself as some sort of expert on parenting. I’m still very much in the thick of things and there are days when I feel like I am holding on for dear life.
Being a dad is challenging in ways you would never expect. How could you anticipate some of things you have to deal with? Yet, even in all that, there is so much joy in fatherhood. Sadly, I feel the joy and value of fatherhood are ignored or downplayed by society and sometimes even by the church.
I believe dads are undervalued in our society even though study after study supports the importance of dads being involved in their children’s lives. It’s no secret children have vastly better outcomes if their dad is an integral part of their upbringing and formation. Nevertheless, in the midst of all that, too often we are treated to cultural examples of dads being dumb, lazy, disconnected, or absent. Fathers can absolutely be all those things and no one is denying that. But, the truth is many fathers are involved and they are not dumb or lazy.
That often-presented stereotype exists for a few reasons, based on what I’ve been able to observe. First, there is some truth to it. Too often dads have been disconnected or worse. It is one of the biggest tragedies of our society. Second, the unflattering picture of fatherhood presented to us by movies, television, commercials, and pop culture in general is intentional in an effort to destroy the healthy family. You remove the father and his influence, you significantly weaken the family unit. It’s that simple yet effective.
The Barna Group has done extensive research on families and spiritual health and one study they published really rocked my world. It served to reinforce my belief that the very idea and importance of fatherhood is under severe attack – and the attacks are clearly working. This study shows that children view their mothers as the primary spiritual leader of their homes by a decent margin. I have no intention of speaking poorly of mothers, or making this a gender war, but when children no longer look to their fathers for spiritual guidance, we are doing things wrong.
Where does that leave us?
What are some steps we can take? As I stated earlier, I am no expert and I am hesitant to share advice simply because I still have so far to go in my fatherhood journey. Still, I believe these action steps are mostly common sense and do not really require any sort of expertise in the field of parenting.
Those of us who are fathers need to step up. I need to step up. Too often, I take a passive role in my children’s spiritual formation. I get complacent and allow their spiritual nourishment to come from church or their Christian school. That is woefully insufficient and I know it. I’ve always known it but I get lazy. This has to stop and it has to stop now. Dads, step up. Lead your family in the way the Lord commands. (Ephesians 6:4) Stop waiting for someone else to do your job.
Churches need to do a better job of equipping and supporting fathers. How many times have you attended a Mother’s Day Sunday where the pastor brags on mothers and talks about all their virtues? And how often have you attended a Father’s Day Sunday only to hear pastors berate and call out fathers on abdicating their responsibilities?
Many studies show that church – the very way we actually do church – is geared toward women. Too often, men feel left out in their church. They feel browbeaten or overlooked. Accountability is incredibly important – see my first point – but we also need to make it clear to the fathers in our churches that we are walking with them. We need them to know they have our support, our help, and that they are valued beyond their checkbook.
Dads, we need to seek out other dads for accountability and support. We need to be in the business of mentoring, both as mentors and as mentees. Find dads who have done the work and come out the other side with thriving and spiritually healthy families. Pick their brains. Study their hearts. Ask them for advice. Find fathers younger than yourself and do what you can to support them. Take an intergenerational approach, looking for fathers who are on both sides of your current stage of life.
Don’t approach it as if you have all the answers. Trust me, you don’t. None of us does. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have advice to be able to give or a listening ear. In my experience, mothers do a much better job of building networks of support than fathers do. As fathers, we should have our own networks of other likeminded fathers who can help us walk the path of fatherhood. Create your own “band of brothers”: a group of fathers who will do everything they can to sharpen one another, encourage on another, and be there for one another.
Take a step back and realize just how blessed you are to be a father. God has entrusted these children to you. It is a huge responsibility, but being a father affords you the unbelievable privilege and joy of watching your children grow. Don’t take it for granted. As I said earlier, it’s not an easy job, but it is absolutely worth it. It’s all worth it.
Psalm 128:3-4 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.
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